Used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, astragalus has been mainly used in combination with other herbs to help strengthen your body against disease. Although it comes in many forms, astragalus membranaceus is the species that’s most often used in supplements.
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It’s believed to be an adaptogen, which means it helps protect your body against physical, mental and emotional stress.
Astragalus might help protect your body against diseases such as diabetes and cancer. It has antioxidants, which help shield your cells from damage. It’s also used to support and protect your immune system, lower blood pressure, protect the liver and treat diabetes.
Astragalus At A Glance
The astragalus plant is a pea-family perennial and stands anywhere from 16 to 36 inches in height. It’s native to the east and northern parts of China, Korea and Mongolia. Its stems are hairy, with leaves in bunches of 12 to 18 leaflets. The medicinal part of the plant is its roots, which are usually harvested from plants that are around four years old.
While a hairy pea plant may sound far from a magic cure, it’s been an increasingly popular subject in research studies because of its prominence in traditional Chinese medicine and promising results from its users. Check out the following three reasons why you should consider adding astragalus to your herbal cabinet.
1. There’s Some Promising Research
This powerful herb has both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and it’s sometimes used for skin wound care to help prevent infection and speed up healing. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center , studies have indicated the herb stimulates your immune system and that it has antiviral properties, making it useful to combat colds.
Here in the US, researchers are investigating astragalus as a potential treatment for people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have undergone radiation treatment or chemotherapy, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. These studies have found that supplements of this herb may have helped people recover more quickly and live longer.
There has been research on the use of astragalus for people who are suffering from AIDS, but in that arena, the results have been mixed.
Studies done in China have suggested that astragalus’ antioxidant properties make it a possible option for people with serious heart disease. As reported by Natural News, it may lower cholesterol, relive symptoms, act as a mild diuretic to help the body lose excess fluid and improve the heart’s function.
Stick to low and moderate doses, as this herb has few side effects at those levels. Be aware that it does interact with some prescription medications and other herbs.
2. It Helps A Lot Of Conditions
Astragalus has been used for many conditions, as outlined below:
- Anemia: An early study, as cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center, suggest this herb may help boost blood counts in those suffering from anemia. At this time, more research is needed.
- Colds and ‘flu: In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is commonly used with other herbs to treat or prevent colds. Research has shown it may have an effect on viruses that cause colds.
- Diabetes: The research jury is still out on this application, although early studies suggest it may lower blood sugar levels.
- Heart diseases: Many studies, says the Milton S. Hersey Medical Center, suggest this herb works as an antioxidant and helps those with heart disease. Other research done indicates it also lowers cholesterol levels.
- Kidney aliments: Some studies show that this herb can help shield the kidneys and treat associated diseases.
- Cancer: According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, astragalus appears to boost immune system response during chemotherapy, potentially reducing the side effects of the treatment on patients.
3. There’s Multiple Forms
Astragalus comes in a tincture, which is a liquid alcohol extract, in a dried root form, in tablets and capsules, and topically for the skin. There is an injectable form, but it’s mainly used in clinical or hospital settings in Asian countries.
Generally, the right dosage for you depends on what you’re taking it for, your age and your weight. Doses that are too high can suppress your immune system, so talk to your doctor if you’re not sure what dose you should start with.
Simmer dried astragalus slices in tea, or add them to soups. The typical dosage this way is three to six boiled grams of root for 12 ounces of water at three times a day. The root herb has a pleasant taste that will add a little sweetness to whatever you put it in. It’s generally found in Chinese food stores and some natural health markets.
For a standardized tablet or capsule extract, which means the amount of astragalus is in a set and specific amount, the recommended dosage is anywhere from 250 mg to 500 mg three or four times a day. Stick to standardized forms in the capsules or tablets, so you know exactly how much astragalus you’re getting each time you take a dose. If you take forms that aren’t standardized, you might end up with uneven dosing.
You can get a tincture of astragalus in 30 percent ethanol. The recommended dose is 20 to 60 drops three times a day.
What You Need To Know
At the typical dosing levels, this herb is considered safe, with no serious side effects. It can interact with medicines that suppress the immune system, such as drugs used to treat lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, so don’t take astragalus if you’re on these types of medicines. It also makes it more difficult for your body to get rid of lithium, resulting in dangerously high levels of the psychiatric medication building up in your system.
If you’re nursing or breastfeeding, don’t take astragalus without talking to your doctor first. More research is still needed to determine whether it’s safe for breastfeeding or nursing mothers to take.
If you have an autoimmune disease, this herb may not be right for you, as it can stimulate your immune system.
While astragalus makes a great herbal addition to your daily life for many reasons, many practitioners suggest alternating between adaptogens like astragalus every couple of months as opposed to staying on the same one long term. This alternating will help prevent your body from getting used to the effects of the adaptogens, a condition that can make the herbs less effective.
As with any herbal supplement, speak to your doctor before taking astragalus to ensure it doesn’t pose a special risk for you. Less is generally more when it comes to herbal and traditional medicines, so try starting out on the lower end of the dose scale and adjust as necessary. Keep track of your body’s response to the herb, as that can help you determine if you’re taking the correct dosage.